Friday Exercise: Saving Lines

Posted on 10 July 2009

A saving line is a joke told to rescue a situation where a standup may have forgotten the next bit, messed up a punchline, or a joke has fallen flat with a particular audience (what works one night with one audience, may not
another night with a different audience, and vice versa).

A comedian can either have a set of these to pull out whenever a rough patch occurs, or write specific saving lines for specific jokes.

A general saving line:

  • I think this audience is too short, you keep missing the punchlines.

Specific saving lines:

Joke—How many mice does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Two, but they have to be very little and very horny.

  • Saving line—The Origin Energy guy thought that joke was a hoot, as did the exterminator.
  • Saving line—What? You don’t think screwing is funny? Be married as long as I have and you’ll find it hilarious.

A number of television comedians are exceptionally well known for their saving lines. They often have several tailored saving lines in a row ready to go, each one meant to cap the previous one.

Saving lines also come in several flavours:

  • The one that puts down the joke.
  • The one that puts down your own abilities.
  • The one that teases the audience for not getting it.

Be very careful with making fun of the audience. They can go from disappointed, because they didn’t get a laugh, to hostile because you aren’t respecting the fact that they have invested time and money by coming to your show. You will need to gauge if they are up for a bit of light ribbing—because sometimes they will be.

The advantage of saving lines is that you can turn a situation where people become uncomfortable and potentially embarrassed for you, to one where you are embracing your fallibility and cajoling an audience into laughing over
your shortcomings. People will come to love your humanity and show patience because they know they will be getting more laughs than not. You become one of them, not some figure of perfection.

Exercise: Take one of your jokes and write three savings lines for it. You might try making the first saving line one that puts down the joke, the next one puts down yourself, and the final one teases the audience.

Peace and kindness,


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